- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

The Maryland Terrapins know the combat is about to commence. Second-ranked Illinois comes to Cole Field House tonight to battle No. 5 Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Fighting Illini bring preseason All-American point guard Frank Williams and a knack for flexing their muscles.
"It's going to be a big ol' fight out there," Terps forward Byron Mouton said. "It's a good challenge for us to see how good we really are mentally and physically. I think there are going to be a lot of free throws because these guys are going to push, shove and grab. … They're a real physical team."
Maryland (3-1) is generally regarded as a finesse team, but will need to go blow-for-blow with the Illini, who are known for swarming and crashing the boards with a vengeance. Illinois (5-0) outrebounds opponents by an average of nine a game. The Terps only loss came in the only game they were beaten on the boards, when Arizona outhustled the listless Terps in the season opener.
"That's how they beat us last year," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, referring to Illinois' ridiculous 18-rebound edge while destroying the Terps last November in the Maui Invitational. "We're aware of that."
The Terps also need to make free throws if they plan to improve upon the nation's longest nonconference home winning streak, now at 79. Illinois is the highest-ranked team to test that run since the streak began in 1989. But that stretch will be in serious jeopardy if they continue their season average of 54 percent from the free throw line.
The Illini come to College Park fresh off winning the Las Vegas Invitational. Illinois won three games in three days in Nevada, including beating beat Southern Illinois 75-72 for the title Saturday night before rushing to the airport to catch a redeye to Baltimore. Illinois sees tonight as a chance to prove its lofty rating.
"It's a great way to find out where you are at," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "It's a long season, but still you get a false sense of who you are until you play people like this."
The most intriguing matchups tonight will be in the backcourt, where the 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior Williams (16.0 points) leads a three-guard offense with Cory Bradford (11.4 points) and Sean Harrington (41-percent 3-pointers). Maryland's Steve Blake will match up with Williams, although wingmen Juan Dixon (20.3 points) and Mouton will help out.
"[Williams] is kind of a throwback where he does a lot of things," Gary Williams said of the returning Big Ten Player of the Year. "He brings it up, plays good defense, shoots the three, penetrates, gets to the foul line. He's not a specialist. You see a lot of specialists these days. He's just a guard. It's a very complimentary term to be called that. That's where it starts."
Williams has struggled shooting, hitting only 28 percent from the field in Las Vegas and making just on of 10 3's, though he did a nice job distributing the ball and running the offense.
"He's different," said Blake, who is 45 pounds lighter than his counterpart. "He doesn't shoot as much. He's not the quickest guy on the court, but he makes things happen. He makes big shots. … He waits for opening. He's tough because all of a sudden he'll just hit a couple shots out of nowhere after not scoring for a long time."
The Terps will attempt to exploit the inside quickness of center Lonny Baxter (16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds) against 6-11 bruiser Robert Archibald. The Illini also have a deep bench that can take a physical toll with 6-9 senior Damir Krupalija (9.4 points, 6.6 rebounds), a Bosnian native who was MVP of the Las Vegas Invitational. They also can go extremely big with 7-2 freshman Nick Smith.
Maryland will rely on power forwards Tahj Holden and Chris Wilcox for rebounding and matching the Illini's physical play. The Terps also must sink free throws, after shooting 52 percent in Saturday's win over Delaware State, and shooting over 57 percent only once this season.
"I just look at it as a disease," said Mouton, who has made just six of 14 from the inappropriately named charity stripe. "It's like when one person misses free throws, everybody misses free throws."
Blake looks at it as "some guys think too much when they go to the free throw line and it messes with their heads."
Maryland began the season as the nation's second-ranked team before being upset by then-unranked Arizona, which beat it to loose balls and rebounds. Now, the No. 2 Illini come to Cole for an early season showdown. The Terps know they have to improve their boards if they are to knockout the Fighting Illini.
"This is a very good test for November," Gary Williams said. "You can't get any better than this unless you play the No. 1 team."


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